Status (Quo) Update

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ITEM: In the wake of the shooting in Jerusalem of political activist Yehuda Glick, allegedly by an Islamic Jihad member who was killed by police after he fired at them, and the subsequent closing of the mosque on Har HaBayis to Muslim worshippers for several hours, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to maintain the “status quo” at the site.

ITEM: Mr. Netanyahu insisted that Israel is indeed “determined to maintain the status quo” at the holy site.

Status Quo: A Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs.  The related phrase often intended by “status quo” is status quo ante, or, “the state of affairs that existed previously.”

It is unfortunate, in fact tragic, that a mosque occupies the site where the Beis Hamikdash stood and will one day stand again.  But the state of Israel respects the understandable 1967 decision of then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol after the Six Day War, when Yerushalayim was reunited, to cede control of access to Har HaBayis to Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf, or religious trust. Even to the point of prohibiting Jewish prayer on the site, in seeming violation of at least the spirit of the state’s “Preservation of the Holy Places Law” enacted that same year.

All of which should be a pointed reminder that, the state of Israel notwithstanding, we clearly remain in galus.  But there is no practical issue here, as the recognized poskei hador have made clear that it is halachically forbidden for a Jew to ascend to the Har Habayis.

What’s interesting, however, is Mr. Netanyahu’s declared respect for the status quo.

Because he only recently succumbed to pressure brought to bear by ministers Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman and lent his support to the conversion bill passed by his cabinet.  That enactment will permit municipal rabbis to hold special conversion courts, allowing for multiple conversion standards and potentially creating a class of tens of thousands of Israelis who are recognized as Jewish by the state but whose conversions did not meet accepted halachic requirements.

Rabbi Seth Farber, a conversion liberalization activist, hailed the enactment as “the first major reform in religion and state that has the potential to fundamentally change the status quo in Israel.”  Indeed.

Then there is the “Equal Burden of Service” law, which, earlier this year, ended exemptions for charedi yeshiva students from military service, exploding another status quo that has existed since the founding of Israel.

More recently, a feminist group has insisted that it be permitted to publicly and vocally hold its “progressive” services, which greatly offend Orthodox Jews, at the Kosel plaza.  The group’s members were given an area in front of another part of the Kosel for their “non-traditional” services.  But they insist on changing the… status quo at the Kosel.

A few years ago I had the privilege of addressing the issue of “Jewish Pluralism” in Israel before general (mostly Jewish but decidedly non-Orthodox) audiences on two university campuses.  One point I made was that, contrary to many people’s assumption, none of the socioreligious conflicts in Israel have been engendered by the country’s religious populace.  All were initiated by people seeking to change the status quo that has served Israel well since its inception by maintaining a modus vivendi among its religious, traditional and secular citizens.

Some of the listeners seemed surprised to be confronted by that fact, despite its obvious truth.   They had been fed so steady a diet of rhetoric about “creeping haredization” and “religious coercion” that they hadn’t noticed that it was junk food.

Pretty much whatever the religious/secular crisis du jour may be – images on buses in Meah Shearim, the closure of streets in religious neighborhoods, allotment of government funding for the institutions of new “Judaisms” – the conflict has been produced by those intent on changing things, not those committed to preserving them.

There is nothing necessarily or inherently bad, of course, about change, at least responsible change.  But making changes in time-honored agreements and undertakings, especially at the expense of upsetting longstanding accommodations, offending in the process large numbers of heartfelt Jews and doing violence to amity and good will is, well, as Mr. Netanyahu intimated with regard to the Har HaBayis, deeply unwise.

And so, the question practically shouts itself from the rooftops of Yerushalayim: Why is the ideal of maintaining peace and harmony by preserving the status quo sufficiently sublime to apply to the Muslim world, but not to the Jewish one?

© 2014 Hamodia